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Take precautions to avoid medication errors

The dangers of certain drug interactions have always been a major concern for those in the health care industry. But with the ever increasing senior population, and corresponding increasing use of prescription drugs, health care workers are starting to take note of the rising number of illnesses and fatalities caused by medication errors.

A professor at a New York college of pharmacy points to drug errors ranking somewhere in between the fourth and sixth leading cause of death in the nation. The reason for the vague statistic is because it is impossible to pinpoint and exact number of death or illnesses related to medication errors. Certain errors may go undetected if the patient dies or gets injured by another source, which may be common among older patients.

But New York patients have the tools to defend themselves against potentially adverse drug reactions.

First, patients should track their medications in a diary or journal and bring it along to the doctor's office. This is especially helpful when a patient is seeing more than one doctor and the doctors may not possess the entire medication history. Patients should also include anything they are taking that is not prescribed, like vitamins or over-the-counter medications. The journal can also help patients remember dosage instructions and when to take their medications, as they can take notes during their doctor visits.

Next, don't leave the pharmacy with any unanswered questions. If there were any details that the doctor left out, the pharmacist should be able to fill in the gaps. Going to one single pharmacy may also be helpful so that the pharmacy has an entire list of the patient's prescriptions. If a pharmacist notices a potentially dangerous drug interaction, they can address it before it's too late.

Even with these precautions, it is still the doctor's responsibility to avoid prescribing drugs with possibly adverse interactions. If a doctor breaches this standard of care and causes harm, patients may be able to recover damages for any medical bills or pain and suffering.

Source: Newsday, "How to avoid medication errors," Peter King, Aug. 9, 2012

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